“I’m tired of jockeying for position in a profession that never hesitates to finger “racists” in public, but can’t see the very real racism in its own newsrooms.”
As I was scrolling through my Facbook news feed I noticed one of my friends posted a link to an article whose headline pierced me like the tusks of an ox: “I’m A Black Journalist. I’m Quitting Because I’m Tired of Newsroom Racism,” written by Rebecca Carroll.
The photo that ran with the article is a promotional image from Aaron Sorkin’s HBO series The Newsroom. There are no black people at the fictional ACN network either. And all the women on staff are irrational workaholics who can’t maintain a healthy relationship with anyone and speak in falsetto all the time…but I digress…
I went to J-School twice–undergrad and grad–and have been a freelance journalist for three years. My beat is the arts, I write in print and online, and in my three post grad school years in the field I have not met a single other black print journalist. All of my editors have been middle aged white men and women. I personally know of one other black woman arts journalist and her name is Valerie Boyd, and she was my magazine writing professor in college.
What I have encountered over the past three years is A LOT of middle-aged white men who claim that they are too liberal to have any ethnic blind spots as it relates to reviewing and criticizing art. I have also encountered people who are surprised, and dare I say intimidated, by the fact that I can write in the first place. I graduated from two of the best journalism schools in the country, and when white people find out they look at me as if I am a Siren or cyclops or unicorn or big foot. I am none of the above.
As a matter of fact when I went to a theater conference last summer, the director of a black theater company in Texas said to me “Whoa! You’re the only one!” He might be right.
Currently I freelance for various arts publications and sites when I can, and work full-time at a magazine. However, I am not on the editorial staff, and there is only one person of color on the editorial staff. Why am I not on the editorial staff you may ask? Well, you try finding a full-time writing or editing job at a magazine and let me know how that goes. But, I do have a foot in the door and the ear of the publisher, and that’s a start.
This is why it disheartens me that Rebecca Carroll is leaving the newsroom. There is no Lean In with a “How to deal with racism and sexism at the same time” addendum for black women, but Sheryl Sandberg’s principles still apply: Every woman who throws in the towel makes it harder for the next one to get in the door. Ms. Carroll has paid her dues in this industry, so she will continue to be able to work, but what about the people just getting started?
I am by no means blaming her. After doing something for so long, you deserve not to have to deal with bullshit. Suffering for the art is cute and idealistic when you’re 20 and infuriating by the time you’re 40. I just wish things were different.